Embattled Wyoming schools chief announces bid for governor

2013-01-31T09:58:00Z 2013-04-03T11:15:13Z Embattled Wyoming schools chief announces bid for governorBy ELYSIA CONNER and LAURA HANCOCK and KYLE ROERINK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette

CASPER, Wyo. — The primary election campaign for governor has begun.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill said she woke up Thursday morning after a restless night and decided to go for it in 2014.

“I know in my heart there’s something I have to do here,” she said in the Hathaway Building while movers were taking her furniture to a new office in the Historic Barrett Building near the Wyoming Capitol.

It was the latest episode in a tumultuous week for the embattled schools chief.

Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday signed into law a bill that transfers most of the superintendent's duties to the newly created Wyoming Department of Education director position. After Mead's news conference, Hill and her lawyer served the governor with a lawsuit disputing Senate File 104 on grounds it violates the state constitution.

Hill said people have been encouraging her to run for governor since April.

In the meantime, Hill said, “I’ll continue to do my work.”

If election season is starting early, Mead is showing no signs of fight.

“He will decide and announce his future plans, political or otherwise, at the appropriate time,” a statement from the governor's office said. “With the Legislature in session, with the urgent needs of the Department of Education, Governor Mead does not feel this is the time to launch a campaign for an election that is roughly two years away.”

A lawsuit, a newly defined job, a run for governor — Hill says she’s up for all of it.

“You know, I’m hardworking,” she said. “I have lots of energy.”

The first hearing for the lawsuit is 4 p.m. Tuesday in Laramie County District Court.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hill's attorney filed a request for a temporary restraining order to halt implementation of the law until a court can decide the matter.

Hill, who was elected in 2010, said an appointed position is not a reflection of the people's voice. She believes the governor had his own reasons for supporting SF104.

“I know he had tremendous pressure from the (legislative) leadership,” she said.

“They stripped me, or are attempting to,” she said of her powers. “… Maybe they would have attempted to (do the same) with the governor. I don’t know.”

Hill believes there is a “small, powerful group” in the Legislature that worked against her.

2010 campaign

Hill ran for superintendent saying she’d bring back emphasis on instruction.

She acknowledged there had been turnover in the Department of Education since she took over in January 2011. She said she empathizes with the long-timers who were frustrated by the changes she wanted to make.

“The staff are hardworking,” she said. “Those who were genuinely frustrated left right away.”

On Thursday, she hugged and said goodbye to the staffers who remained at the Department of Education.

“I hope they honor the new leadership that comes in,” she said, mentioning that she struggled with some staff members.

Hill had tremendous difficulty working with colleagues at Carey Junior High School, said Ted Adams, a former Laramie County School District 1 superintendent. In 2010, he was Hill’s opponent in the state superintendent Republican primary race. He said Hill was incompetent as an assistant principal but she knew how to run a successful campaign.

“Getting elected to an office and then being able to provide leadership are two different sets of skills,” Adams said Thursday.

Hill told the Star-Tribune in 2010 that district officials didn't appreciate her school improvement efforts, such as extra tutoring and academic interventions, while she was assistant principal. She also accused teachers’ unions of spreading stories that she had been fired. Hill said she resigned as assistant principal Feb. 28, 2010, to run for superintendent.

However, the timeline of events around the school district's rehiring process and Hill's resignation cast doubt on Hill's administrative performance.

Administrator contracts in LCSD1 are renewed annually and recommended to the school board of trustees for approval. John Lyttle, associate superintendent of human relations for LCSD1, said in the October 2010 Star-Tribune story that underperforming administrators are put on an "improvement plan" with the district and monitored for performance. If improvement is not made, the district can choose to not rehire the administrator.

A list of building administrators recommended for rehire was submitted Feb. 8, 2010, according to a memo from Lyttle.

Hill's name did not appear on the list. Hill submitted a letter of resignation dated Feb. 28.

The board approved rehired administrators March 1 and Hill's resignation March 15.

Run for governor

Hill said it wasn’t her ambition to someday run for governor.

“I thought I’d be a superintendent and growing kids and working with teachers for years and years and years,” Hill said.

Hill said state Rep. Stephen Watt, R-Rock Springs, influenced her decision to run. She read a statement he issued publicly Tuesday, saying her courage was a quality a governor should have.

“That was really nice of him,” she said.

Watt said Thursday that he wrote the statement of his own volition. He sees Hill as a fighter.

“She took some hard hits from some powerful people and she still stood there and didn’t buckle down,” Watt said. “My God, that’s courage. That’s integrity. That’s what I want. That’s what we need.”

Jim King is the chairman of the University of Wyoming Political Science Department. He said if Mead does run for a second term, it would be hard for Hill to unseat him.

“It is difficult to unseat an incumbent,” he said. “And it really doesn’t matter what state-level office we’re talking about."

If Hill is running as a Republican, it would make things interesting, King said. It’s rare to see intraparty challenges for governor, he added.

“It will be a robust time in the party in the next couple of years,” said Miles Dahlby, chairman of the Natrona County Republican Party.

Wyoming Democratic Party Executive Director Robin Van Ausdall said she was surprised to hear Hill announce so early.

“She’s firmly established herself with a small minority of people,” Van Ausdall said.

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